19 Individuals and Organizations Building Stronger Black Communities and Food Systems
By Danielle Nierenberg
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
We must remember and honor the memory of people including Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee, the owner of a barbecue restaurant in Louisville who was killed by police during protests. These murders are a travesty and something that should not happen in the United States of America—or any nation.
It's time for people of all backgrounds to not only denounce violence, but to actively use their voices, dollars, and power to demand change. I'm in awe of the many people who have been working for years to restore democracy, empathy, and equality to this country.
These 19 organizations and individuals represent a small portion of the efforts underway to fight racism and inequality and to build stronger Black communities and food systems, and I hope you'll join me in supporting them.
The Anti Police-Terror Project is a Black-led, multi-generational coalition of people working to end police terror in communities. Based in Oakland and Sacramento, California, APTP is building a sustainable model for justice that can be replicated around the country. They also document police abuses and help impacted families access legal and healing resources.
Based in Baltimore but operating nationally, the Black Church Food Security Network aims to support gardening and farming within Black churches. They establish agricultural projects on church land, connect farmers to congregational markets, and create asset maps of Black churches and surrounding neighborhoods to help better use resources. They also operate a small directory and interactive map of faith-based Black farmers across the East Coast, Midwest, and southeastern U.S.
Black Lives Matter, a movement created in response to murders of innocent Black people by police and vigilantes, works to build power to bring justice, healing, and freedom to Black people across the globe. Black Lives Matter is a broad coalition and affirms the lives of Black people across the gender spectrum, of all abilities, and of any documentation status.
Black Urban Growers maintains a network and community support in order to foster Black leadership in food and farm advocacy. Their programs include the Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference, a national conference started in 2010 that brings together Black farmers, advocates, chefs, and communities to share their best practices and leadership efforts.
The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network is working on the ground in Detroit, Michigan, to ensure that the local urban agriculture movement is racially and socially inclusive. It was founded in 2006 to mobilize the Black community to address food insecurity challenges, and the network believes that the most effective movements grow organically within the communities they are designed to benefit. They operate organic urban farm sites, various local food policy initiatives, and a cooperative food-buying program for community residents.
Washington D.C. nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud works to create healthier, more equitable food systems in low-income communities. Dreaming Out Loud supports economic opportunity-building with their two-acre farm, several community gardens and farmers markets, and a food business accelerator. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they partnered with Little Sesame restaurant to provide free meals for people of all ages every weekday afternoon.
7. Fair Fight
One of the most impactful ways to participate in democracy is by voting, but many people, particularly in minority communities, face structural barriers against having their voices be heard. Fair Fight was founded by Stacey Abrams, who lost a close race for Georgia governor in 2018 amid allegations that her opponent, then-state Secretary of State Brian Kemp, had engaged in voter suppression. The organization aims to end voter suppression, make sure everyone can access their constitutional right to vote, and fight for fairer elections. You can donate online here.
8. Jamila Norman of Patchwork City Farms
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Jamila Norman is a world-renowned urban farmer and food activist. In 2010, Norman founded Patchwork City Farms, a certified naturally grown organic urban farm where Norman farms—and provides the local community with safe and nutritious foods. Norman is also co-founder of EAT Where You Are, an initiative that aims to spread awareness of the importance of including fresh foods in diets, and is the manager and one of the founding members of the South West Atlanta Growers Cooperative, which helps Black farmers create equitable, sustainable, responsible food systems.
9. Karen Washington, founder of Rise and Root Farm
Karen Washington, a farmer and community activist, wants to build a different agricultural narrative, inclusive of all races, genders, and sexualities. She created Rise and Root Farm to be a place of healing for diverse and marginalized communities—particularly important today, as black farmers work to call attention to not only their own contributions to the modern food system but also the impact of the slave trade on the development of global food chains. "Agriculture must be inclusive in its diversity," Washington tells Food Tank.
10. La Via Campesina
La Via Campesina is an international coalition of organizations that defend food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and worker dignity. They built a movement that amplifies the voices of smallholder peasant farmers and aims to decentralize the power of corporate-driven agriculture, which they argue is destructive to the environment and social relations.
11. Leah Penniman, founder of Soul Fire Farm
Soul Fire Farm grows food as an act of solidarity with those oppressed by food apartheid while maintaining respect for their ancestors, history, and the environment. Soul Fire Farm conducts training programs to raise the next generation of activist-farmers and support food sovereignty for future communities. The organization's Co-Director Leah Penniman recently completed a book, "Farming While Black," a guide for African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity.
The National Bail Fund Network is a directory of bail funds in over 30 states, which free unfairly detained people from jail and fight to end the cash bail system. Donations to local and national bail funds support jailed protesters who are not only at risk for being prosecuted unfairly, but who are also at risk for contracting COVID-19 while detained.
A coalition of Black-led organizations, the National Black Food and Justice Alliance builds Black self-determination around food and land sovereignty. They accomplish this through community organizing and increasing visibility of Black narratives, visions, and achievements. In 2018, co-founder Dara Cooper was honored with a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award "for dedicating her life to racial equity and justice in the food system and increasing capacity and visibility of Black-led narratives and work."
14. Planting Justice
In Oakland, California, Planting Justice builds economic justice and food sovereignty among communities impacted by mass incarceration. Planting Justice teaches gardening skills to people while in prison and offers them paid positions after release. Planting Justice has planted over 500 gardens in the Bay Area, offered reentry employment opportunities to over 40 people, and helped people reconnect with the land.
A Minneapolis-based organization, Reclaim the Block works to reallocate city money away from police and instead toward community-led health and safety initiatives. They have assembled an extensive digital toolkit to help communities in all cities and states advocate for divestiture from police. You can support them via donations or by signing their petition encouraging the Minneapolis City Council to redirect police department funding toward resources for Black and Indigenous communities.
16. Soil Generation
Based in Philadelphia, Soil Generation is a Black- and Brown-led coalition with a vision for "a people's agroecology"—a combination of environmental and food justice with a focus on community self-representation, anti-racism training, education, and advocacy. Soil Generation has successfully worked with the city council to amend a bill that would have put urban gardens at risk and continues to actively campaign for rights to vacant lots.
17. Tanya Fields of the Black Feminist Project
As founder and executive director of The Black Feminist Project, Tanya Fields is a food justice activist and educator. Fields started the Libertad Urban Farm, an organic urban garden in the Bronx, as an effort to address the lack of nutritious food and food education accessible to low-income people, specifically underserved women of color. Additionally, Fields works closely with The Hunts Point Farm Share, connecting city residents to high-quality local produce through community-supported agriculture.
Toni Tipton-Martin, based in Baltimore, Maryland, works on a series of endeavors to promote food justice. She has written two James Beard Award-winning books that trace Black cuisine, Jubilee and The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbook. Martin served as the president of Southern Foodways Alliance board of directors and was the first Black food editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Additionally, Martin founded the SANDE Youth Project, a nonprofit organization that works with children to combat obesity while supporting Black food culture.
The Urban Growers Collective operates eight urban farms on 11 acres of land in Chicago's South Side and works with more than 33 partner organizations to create economic opportunity and boost healthy food access. Each farm uses organic methods and integrates education, leadership training, and food production. The organization was co-founded by Laurell Sims and Erika Allen, a visual artist and food advocate who works to use creativity for social change.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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